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The parenting update – 10 things I’ve learned about parenting teenagers

I think your parenting style changes as your children go through different life stages.  I’ve been thinking recently about how my parenting has evolved as the boys have moved into their older teens.  Our household has always been pretty laid back, but a few wobbles recently have made me fall back upon the rules that I’ve always leant on to give the boys boundaries.  Here are my current thoughts on my very own ‘best practice’.

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My savings past, present and future

I’ve never been good with money.  It’s one of the things we’ve tried really hard to talk to the boys about because (and I know you’re not supposed to do this but, hey…) I don’t want them to make the same mistakes we made.

We were married with a child by the time I was 25 and, back then, it was pretty easy to buy a house with two incomes.  It makes me realise just how lucky we were.  My parents were generous with their help and by the time Charlie came along, we’d moved into a bigger house that needed some work and were slowly doing it up.

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Sainsbury's #loveyourfreezer banana ice cream

‘Prom night’ purple and Tom and Jerry antics

It’s been a mad week here at English Towers.  The Sainsbury’s #loveyourfreezer campaign has gone live and it’s been really lovely receiving tweets, texts and Facebook messages (and AWFUL screenshots – thanks guys haha) saying ‘ooh, I’ve just seen you on the telly!’.  I’m SO proud of this campaign – Sainsbury’s have been amazingly lovely to work with, and there are loads more exciting things coming up.

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Lyra and Chas bed

House news – and teenage bedrooms

So things on the house front have moved on AGAIN.  After the third house purchase fell through, I’ve got to be honest, we were pretty despondent.  I’ve never heard of it happening before, but the last one got right to survey and then the survey came in 20k under budget.  Anyone else had any experience of that?

Anyhoo, it’s all change again, because we think we’ve found the perfect house – the one we’re already in!  We’ve got some lovely plans to do the place up – with a spacious kitchen diner instead of our poky kitchen and separate dining room  (more of this later, but my Pinterest page is burgeoning) and new floors and even bathrooms when funds permit.

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Luckies of London laptop case

English Mum’s Big Christmas Gift Guide – top treats for teens!

I think teenagers are some of the most difficult people to buy pressies for (difficult all round, but that’s for another day haha).  Thinking creatively about their presents, aside from the never ending list of PS4/Xbox related things occupies quite a lot of my time before Christmas, so I thought I’d share a couple of lovely present ideas with you.

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In your dreams, pal...

TWO teenagers driving? Give me strength!

Happy half term!  We’ve been really busy planning a trip to Florida next week (it’s Mr English’s 50th while we’re over there too), and I spent the weekend in London with my friend Erica (more of this very soon).  There’s also been more work on The Secret Special Thing that Cannot be Mentioned.  All will be revealed soon, I promise.

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Brotherly love

For Sam. Sniggering, silly voices and new beginnings

So this is our last week living as a proper family unit I suppose (although let’s face it, with Mr English’s weird job, we’re only ever a family unit two weeks out of four).  Sam’s off to university next week and we’ll miss him loads.  This became apparent as we watched the NFL tonight and sniggered, en famille, when the commentator said ‘bush’, and then a bit more when he said something about ‘coming in from behind’.

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Prezzo

Waving goodbye to my baby, and a hot flush.

So after a 27 hour delay in Orlando (more of this later), I’m finally home to the awful realisation that my biggest boy is off to university very shortly – Sam’s about to leave home.   Amidst all the excitement of exam results (and writing stuff), and sorting out that trip to Orlando (and writing stuff) and getting geared up for the House of Bodily Fluids and that that entails (and did I mention writing stuff?) I realised I’d not entirely come to terms with Sam not being around on a full time basis.

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Squidgy chocolate brownie cake

A squishy chocolate brownie cake for exam success (mostly)

So it’s been a little frantic here at English Towers.  First we had A level results, and then within a week it was GCSE results. Honestly, I really should have planned my children a little better.

Still, it was all good.  I used the hashtag #noexamswerefailedonthisday on Instagram but in truth, one exam WAS failed.  But hey, it didn’t matter.  Sam got what he needed to head out into the big wide world of university, and Charlie’s off to sixth form.

If there’s one thing I always insist upon, it’s a celebration when someone’s done something brilliant.  As parents, we spend plenty of time enforcing rules, cajoling, counselling (okay, and occasionally moaning), so when something amazing happens,  I always think it redresses the balance a bit to celebrate.  Everyone loves a pat on the back when they do something great, don’t they?

So obviously all this exam success called just such a celebration, and what better celebration is there than a whopping great warm, chocolatey, squishy brownie cake smothered in lashings of chocolate ganache?  None, that’s what…

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Sharing platter in Prezzo

Prezzo’s new summer sharing specials

I’ve written before about how gorgeous our local Prezzo is.  The staff are lovely, the atmosphere in the place is amazing (helped by an open kitchen featuring a massive pizza oven) and the food is consistently good.  Last week we popped in to try the new summer sharing specials.

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Charlie in the Bahamas

5 reasons why you should take your teenagers on a Caribbean cruise

Every parent of teenagers knows that feeling when you start to wonder exactly how long your children will keep wanting to come on holiday with you.  As they grow up, they naturally develop their own tastes, likes and dislikes (and even more naturally, these will tend to be the exact opposite to yours), so agreeing on a holiday destination (and indeed, persuading them to dump their mates and come on holiday with you) is never easy.

Enter, the Caribbean cruise.  Here’s why:

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Family English on the Allure of the Seas

The Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas: a guided tour

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, I’m pretty sure that you’ve noticed we’ve been cruising on the Allure of the Seas around the Caribbean.

Royal Caribbean challenged the boys to have a really active high-adrenaline cruise and I think we managed it, what with zip-lining, surfing on the Flow-Rider, snorkelling, power rafting and much more.  And while the boys were doing all this, it left us lots of lovely free time for lazing, eating out, sunbathing and a few cocktails too!  Here’s how we got on:

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Heli

How not to miss a flight

As you know, I’m big on building memories.  My motto for this year (my hashtag, even – how New Media of me) is #snapshotsnotstuff (unfortunate, as it has the word ‘snot’ in the middle).  As part of this, I want the boys to grab every opportunity, get out there and see the world, have wonderful new experiences and do new things.  All this came very much into play recently when Sam and his study partner were planning their big A level Media project.  For this, they basically have to produce a documentary.  When throwing around ideas, one of them that kept recurring was a documentary about North Sea helicopter pilots (the job Mr English does).  My reaction was why not?  If we could get the company’s permission, persuade the school, sort out the insurance, etc, etc…   At first, it seemed like it was never going to happen, but Mr English was brilliant, sorting things at his end, and the school were very supportive (imagine giving your very expensive camera to an 18 year old to take on a flight to Aberdeen) and very soon, the filming weekend was upon us.

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Source: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/159596380519079357/

Moments in time

I’m a huge believer in living life to the full.  I’ve written before about how important I think it is to build memories: snapshots we can look back on and treasure.  Years from now, we’re not going to remember the handbag we spent our birthday money on, or the fabulous jumper we spent a month’s salary to buy – what we will remember is holding hands watching a perfect sunset or an evening laughing with friends.

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The big Christmas gift guide: terrific pressies for teenagers

So next to get the Big Christmas Gift Guide treatment are your gorgeous teenagers.

Onesie

First up are the frankly fantastic All in One Company who hand make their fabulous quality onesies in Northumberland.  They very kindly asked me for Charlie’s measurements and made him a special onesie with his choice of purple camo polar fleece.  He’s absolutely delighted with it because, hey, there’s not another one in the world that’s exactly the same.  You can also give All in One Company gift vouchers so that people can design their very own onesie, and they also have an adorable baby section (check it out – the cuteness!)

ColgateColgate’s new ProClinical A1500 electrical toothbrush is a bit more practical but makes a really cool present (and what teenager doesn’t love looking in the mirror let’s face it).  It’s a really clever gadget with sensors that automatically adjust the speed and cleaning action of the brush depending on how it’s held in the mouth, and cleans using sonic vibration (32,500 strokes per minute!) to really attack that plaque.  It also comes with a spare brush head so more than one person can use it, which is handy.  RRP is £169.99 but it’s on a less than half price offer in Boots at the moment!

SchollScholl have got a really nice ColourPop manicure set which is like the the professional shaping machines you find in salons.  It’s got lots of different filing and shaping heads and is rechargeable too.  The little polishing head is useful if you’re not wearing nail varnish to give your nails a lovely shine.  Nifty.  (RRP £24.99)

Toni & GuyTONI&GUY have got loads of amazing hairdryers and gadgets out in lovely kits this Christmas including Twist and Crimp (RRP £50)  with which apparently – if you’re clever – it’s possible to crimp the underneath of your hair to give it more volume, or go all out 70s and crimp the whole lot, or the Reverse Conical wand for gorgeous casual waves and curls.  We love these as they’re all in beautiful packaging and look really special.

The SnowmanThe Snowman is a Christmas classic (30 years young!) and Build a Bear have bought out a special toy this Christmas, perfect for younger teens with a soft spot for film.   He retails at £18 and is actually really gorgeous – you can buy him online or go into a Build a Bear store for the full stuffing experience!  There’ll be a few adults that would rather like him too, we think!

Diva & Me

Excuse the weird ear-selfie, but if you’re looking for beautiful, unique jeweller – for teenagers or anyone else, frankly – look no further than lovely Diva & Me who sent me these gorgeous 14k gold opalite earrings which literally change colour depending on the light – anything from the darkest purple to very light, almost translucent violet. The gold setting is a delicate ‘hand crocheted’ design – have a look at it close up on the website, it’s absolutely amazing.  I adore them, and I’m really not a jewellery person.

LifeproofLifeproof do AMAZING iPad and iPhone cases that make them completely waterproof, shockproof and even mudproof, rendering their gadget pretty much indestructible.  Once sealed (it does take a bit of time to fit, plus you have to test it, but all the instructions are in the box and the test kit is enclosed),  it is shock proof from two metres with an IP level of 68, whatever that is, and is so waterproof it can actualy be used as an underwater camera.  Brilliant.

Stocking filler wise, I’m always keen to keep away from any sort of useless plastic crap that will be broken by Boxing Day, so we concentrate on anything yummy or useful.  The boys get through tons of the Lynx shower gel and shampoo, especially the Apollo scent, so these are always a winner.  We love all the Cadbury Christmas chocolate, especially the Winter Wonderland bar. Yum! and Kleenex‘s lovely Winter Originals Christmas pocket tissue packs are cute and handy too.

Kleenex Winter Originals

English Mum Christmas

Hell and hilarity: the first month with our new puppy

Lyra asleep

So I guess we’ve now had Lyra for about a month – I think we got her on 26th October.  And whereas before we were barely functioning and bleary eyed, things have really settled down.  My Disreputable Dad and his wife are thinking of getting a puppy and I think I probably put them off with my tales of piddles on the carpet and early mornings, but honestly, I’m really feeling like we’ve made progress.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that you HAVE to be firm.  It upset me when I popped her in her crate so that I could get on with something, but after a while she settles and especially if she’s got a chew or a kong with a few bits of cheese in, she’s mostly happy in there for an hour while I crack on with cleaning or whatever.  In the evening, she wanders into the crate and settles down without even being asked.

We’re still working on ear and nose biting.  It’s not in anger, more in a licky, excited ‘I LOVE YOU WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN I MISSED YOU! kind of way…

Welcome home Charlie

House training is bloody hard, and there’s nothing you can do except watch the pup like a hawk and take her out a lot.  She’s a clever girl and very eager to please so she’s starting to pick up on the fact that if she ‘goes’ in the garden, she gets cuddles and treats, but in the house she gets ignored and people get all huffy and stomp around with bowls of water and sponges.  We’re three days since our last accident, so we’re definitely getting there!

I’ve started on recall training.  I’ve been using a long training lead and calling her back to me, giving her loads of praise and treats, but I’ve been told it’s best to move it on as soon as possible.  There’s a small area of woods near where I live and I had a good look round to make sure it was pretty well enclosed.  I grabbed a bag full of the smelliest most yummy treats and took a big deep breath and let her off the lead.  She had a bit of a wander and came back to me every time I called.  The I panicked and put her back on the lead.  Still, it’s a start.

But the good stuff, oh the good stuff is magic.  Charlie was away at Vans Warped Tour this weekend and Sam was at his girlfriend’s, and she was wonderful company – we wandered through the woods, snuggled on the sofa and even watched X Factor together (I may have used the sentence ‘yes, I just said that to the dog’ in response to someone on Twitter).  She’s already learned that if someone’s eating, she’s not allowed to have any (she sits very close to me and grumbles), and when you tell her off (her favourite naughty trick is bringing me a filthy welly and dropping it next to me on the sofa) she goes all silly and bouncy and occasionally answers back.  She really is delightful, even when she’s being a massive pain.

Here’s my view from last night.  Whippet bum, eh? Delightful.

Lyra bum

 

James’ birthday double chocolate cheesecake

Chocolate cheesecake This week, one of Charlie’s best buddies, James, turns 16.  They’ve known each other forever, well, since they started school, and James just feels like one of the family, basically.  He had a Halloween party yesterday (his poor Mum) and they also went up to Wembley to watch the Jags vs 49ers American football game too (which was amazing, apparently – ‘apart from the streaker. Legend’).

I promised to make him a double chocolate cheesecake (we class the chocolate in the digestives as the second chocolate – probably slightly tenuous, but hey), and even though it’s not officially his birthday yet, we let him blow out the candle.  We’re good like that.

Double Chocolate Cheesecake

100g salted butter

300g pack of dark chocolate digestives

500g cream cheese

100g icing sugar

200ml whipping cream

200g good quality dark chocolate

Cream cheese and icing sugar

 

So warm the butter in a small saucepan until it’s just melted and in the meantime whizz up the digestives, or if you don’t have a processor, just put them in a plastic bag and whack them with a rolling pin.  Stir the butter into the biscuits then press into the bottom of a springform tin (you’ll never get the bugger out otherwise) and leave to cool.

Now, melt the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of water (don’t let the bowl touch the water), turning the pan off once the water boils.  Put the cream cheese in a bowl, beat it until smooth then beat in the icing sugar.

Now, and this is important, you must wait for the chocolate to cool back to room temperature.  Wait until it feels the same temperature as your finger when you dip it in.   While you’re waiting, whip the cream.

Add the cooled chocolate to the cream cheese and icing sugar.  Stir it in until the colour is uniform, then fold in the cream gently with a metal spoon so you don’t lose all the air you’ve incorporated.  Smooth the mixture over the prepared base.

And that’s it. Just let it set in the fridge.  I decorated mine with a bit of melted chocolate (excuse the rubbish photo – there was a bit of hilarity), but you can add whatever topping you like: grated chocolate, maltesers, raspberries, even a cheeky layer of chocolate ganache.

Happy birthday James.  Sweet 16! xx

Chocolate cheesecake

 

 

Considering a Disney Cruise with teenagers? Here are my top tips!

The last night on deck

So as you know, I’m a huge Disney fan.  I adore Minnie Mouse, regularly weep over my ancient Beauty and the Beast DVD and could walk you around Walt Disney World blindfolded telling you all about my favourite rides.  I love the films, the characters, the parks, the food (Disney dining is second to none, but cupcakes are my speciality – ask me anything).  The boys have grown up with Hercules, Toy Story, Stitch and Pirates of the Caribbean, and Disney has been a part of all our lives for as long as we can all remember.

This summer we were ridiculously excited to be invited for an amazing trip aboard the Disney Magic as it cruised around the Mediterranean for one of the last times before heading to dry dock for a spectacular new makeover and with an 18 year old and a 15 year old in tow, I was interested to see how we’d get on.

Let’s be clear: there are as many different types of teens as there are holidays.  You’ve got your adventurous ones, your quiet ones, your sociable ones, your ‘not talk to anyone at all’ ones…  So what’s the best way to choose a holiday that will suit your teenagers AND the rest of you?

1. Involve them in the choice of holiday

As I write about travel, we tend to go on holiday a lot.  My teenagers have been on all sorts of trips but the ones that are the best received are always the ones where they’ve had some choice in the matter.  Make it a treat: head out for a burger (this is our standard meeting place as it guarantees at least a few minutes of silence where I can get my point across) and flump a big pile of brochures on the table (obviously you can tip the odds in your favour by adding in your favourites).  Arguing will no doubt ensue, but you’ll also be able to gather who wants what from a holiday.

2. Teenagers need freedom

Cruises are perfect for families.  Think about it: there’s buckets of fun for the little ones, plus the teenagers can’t really wander off and there are a gazillion activities for them to do.  You can stay by the pool, head to the beach or sightsee on shore days, watch the latest Disney films (either on the amazing ‘Tunnel Vision’, an outdoor screen, or in a proper cinema), catch a show (the shows are INCREDIBLE – I always cry), play a game of basketball or table tennis… a Disney cruise is like 10 holidays in one and their kids’ clubs are amazing.

3. Which brings me to a word about kids’ clubs

Teen Clubs are really hard to get right.  It helps if the age groups are well thought out (young teens and old teens is the best split: no 17 year old wants their style cramped by a 13 year old) and the leadership needs to be friendly and non-patronising.  ‘Teen disco’ tends to strike fear into the heart of any teenager, but generally by day four or five they’ll be there, hanging about looking like they don’t really want to be there, but actually enjoying themselves.  By day seven, they’ll be cruising around in a huge pack, annoying everyone.  Teen clubs also allow them more access to the facilities: Charlie wanted to go into the gym, but it’s over 18s only.  Turns out the teen club organise group visits to the gym.  Result: happy Charlie.

4. Think outside the box

Our Disney Magic cruise took us to Spain, Italy and France, but maybe you fancy going further afield, or you’ve ‘done’ Rome already?  No problem.  Disney Cruises go to the most amazing places: cruise the Caribbean, or swoosh along the California coastline.  Next on my list?  Alaska!

5. Compromise compromise and compromise a bit more

Want to schlep around Pompeii on your shore day but have kids who want to lie by the pool plugged in to their iPhones?  It’s all about the compromise.  There are some absolutely amazing shore excursions – you don’t have to spend hours in a coach or traipsing round cathedrals.  Let them choose what they want to do – I wanted to see Monaco, so we chose a trip with a visit to the Top Car Museum in Monte Carlo, which suited all of us.  Also, maybe consider splitting up.  We find this works well: I might head off on a trip with one, leaving Dad slobbing on the deck with the other.

6. City breaks can be really cool

We weren’t looking forward to our last day in Barcelona.  We were disembarking at 9am and had all day to kill before our evening flight.  We were lucky to team up with friends we’d made who knew it inside out and showed us around some really cool places.   It turned out to be one of our favourite days.

7. Disney is part of everyone’s past

Some of our favourite moments were really unexpected.  We bumped into Stitch – a huge favourite from their childhood, and one evening we sat and watched Hercules up on the deck, singing along to our favourite songs from the film and reminiscing about when it was their favourite film (‘nice catch, jerkules!’).  Lovely moments to share.

8. Consider doubling up

Know another family with kids a similar age? Think about holidaying together.  Not only is it fun to have a Disney adventure with friends, but it’s a lot easier walking into that kids’ club on the first day if they’re doing it with someone they know.  It also means that you have more adults to mingle with too!

Chas pirate

9. Everybody loves the pirate party

Trust me: nobody is ever too old for pirate night.  Everyone on the ship dresses up as pirates (whole families bring their costumes with them), there are pirate themed dinners and then a massive party on the deck afterwards, with the best firework display ever and then a DJ until the early hours.  There is nothing better than dancing to amazing tunes out on the deck at ridiculous o’clock in the morning under the biggest sky full of stars you ever saw.

10. Disney’s for everyone

Think Disney’s just for young ones? Think again.  One of my happiest moments after we came back from the cruise was overhearing Sam talking to a friend describing the cruise: ‘I’m going every year if I can, mate, you can’t beat Disney’.  Nothing makes me happier than to know I’ve passed my love of everything Disney onto my children.

 

7-night Disney Magic Mediterranean Cruise from £949 per adult and £699 per child.  Virgin Holidays Cruises offers seven nights onboard Disney Magic from Barcelona, calling at Villefranche (for Nice, France), Pisa, Rome and Naples, including flights from London Gatwick and transfers. Prices are per person based on two adults and two children travelling and sharing an inside cabin on a full-board basis. Based on a departure on 30 August 2014. Offer is subject to availability and includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change.
To book: Visit www.virginholidayscruises.co.uk, call 0844 573 4398 or visit one of our stores located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide.

In which I inform the school that tie shredding boy needs a break

The lettuce protest

The lettuce protest

He’s a bit of a wag is The Dude.  Not in a bad way.  Oh no, I’m far too scary a parent to allow anything like that.  I do, however, feel that we shouldn’t crush every bit of individuality and personality out of our children.  I want my children to be respectful, kind and considerate, but we do have a bit of a giggle at home, and sometimes there’s a bit of banter and the odd swear, but that’s fine by me too.  On the left, I present his recent protest at being asked to eat lettuce. He hates lettuce.

Since returning to school after half term, Charlie’s been on ‘lockdown’. This is basically because this particular school moves the kids up into their new school years after the May half term.  So Chas is now in year 11.  This year is special because it’s their GCSE year.  They wear a different coloured shirt and tie and are allowed more freedom, including the right to leave the school at lunchtime.  Unfortunately, since the now infamous ‘tie shredding incident‘, his punishment, along with his friends, was to have this freedom rescinded for two whole weeks.  It’s actually a pretty great punishment.  Allow the whole of the school year to leave the premises at lunchtime, leaving the ‘naughty’ ones behind to earn their freedom again? I get that.  I totally do.

Trouble is, the policing of this ‘lockdown’ is all wrong.  On the first day he came back looking less than happy.  I assumed it was the enforced loss of freedom and didn’t say too much.  Actions have consequences, etc and I fully support the school’s right to give punishment where it’s due.  On the second day, I actually asked what was up, and it turned out that the lockdown is being enforced by them having to report to their house office EVERY TEN MINUTES.  Yup, you read that right.  Wherever they are and whatever they’re doing, they have to walk all the way back to a specific office to report every ten minutes.

This is all wrong.  Removing a privilege if they misbehave? Totally fine.  Removing their freedom and their right to a break at lunchtime, when they’re studying hard for GCSEs and working hard in class?  Wrong.  Ten minutes is not even enough time to queue up in the canteen and eat. Had he eaten?  No.  I was fuming.

I sent one of my emails.  I kept it firm.  I expect Charlie to be allowed a proper break to go eat, drink, read a book, revise, muck about, play football… whatever. Just as you, as a teacher, are allowed one.

The reply was a bit sarky: ‘if Charlie’s that keen on revising, he can always go to the library, where the staff there will record his presence’.  Oh I didn’t like that.  I didn’t like that one bit.

My reply, I feel, was firm but fair: ‘it’s not about revision. It’s about giving the kid a break, not making him perform like a trained chimp for the entire lunch period.’

That’s me off the school Christmas list, then.